H.G. Adler

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H.G. Adler: A Life in Many Worlds, by Peter Filkins. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019

The biography of H.G. Adler (1910-88) is the story of a survivor of Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and two other concentration camps who not only lived through the greatest cataclysm of the 20th century, but someone who also devoted his literary and scholarly career to telling the story of those who perished in over two dozen books of fiction, poetry, history, sociology, and religion. And yet for much of his life he remained almost entirely unknown. A writer’s writer, a scholar of seminal, pioneering works on the Holocaust, a renowned radio essayist in postwar Germany, a last representative of the Prague Circle of literature headed by Kafka, a key contributor to the prosecution in the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Adler was a man of his time whose times lived through him. His is the story of many others, but also one that is singularly his own. And at its heart lies a profound story of love and perseverance amid the loss of his first wife, Gertrud Klepetar, who accompanied her mother to the gas chamber in Auschwitz, and the courtship and extended correspondence with Bettina Gross, a Prague artist who escaped to the Britain, only to later learn that her mother had also been in Theresienstadt with Adler before her eventual death in Auschwitz. His delivery of a lecture in Theresienstadt commemorating Kafka’s sixtieth birthday, and with Kafka’s favorite sister present; the nurturing of a younger generation of artists and intellectuals, including the Israeli artist Jehuda Bacon and the Serbian novelist Ivan Ivanji; the preservation of Viktor Ullmann’s compositions and his opera The Emperor of Atlantis, only to see them premiered decades later to world acclaim; and the penury of postwar life while churning out the novels, poetry, and scholarship that would make his reputation – all of these are part of a life survived in the moment, but dedicated to the future, and that of a man committed to helping human dignity survive in his time and that to come.

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“A fascinating and scrupulously researched authorized biography of Adler.”
Jewish Review of Books

“Filkins’s abundantly researched, honest book reveals Adler as a wounded, flawed human being, but also as a man gifted with inner strength, endurance, and desire to… make of his life an inextinguishable light for a world bound by darkness.”
Foreword Reviews

“Authoritative, deeply empathetic,… a well-deserved celebration of a courageous and determined public intellectual.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A vivid biography… of a man who grappled with the unimaginable.”
Publisher’s Weeklys

Filkins has done a great service by introducing to English-speaking readers an important witness to the destruction of the European Jews.”
Moment Magazine

“I cannot put this book down. I don’t want it to end. Adler’s is a world that bears inflections of Kafka, Levi, and ultimately Sebald—before, during, and after the war–a world that was always about to collapse, before, during, and after the war.  And yet, in Filkins’ telling, this is life as a nightmare one doesn’t want to shake off.” — André Aciman

“Every page of Adler’s work was written with the urgent rigor demanded by survivorship, and Peter Filkins – Adler’s English-language translator and now his world-biographer – honors that daunting mandate. His is a masterly and utterly engrossing study of one of the greatest minds to have been forged in the furnace of mid-twentieth-century Europe.” — Joshua Cohen

“A remarkable achievement based on formidable research and a comprehensive knowledge of H.G Adler’s life and work. It will finally introduce readers to a uniquely talented Holocaust survivor who merits acclaim in equal measure as a poet, novelist, essayist and historian.” — Lawrence L. Langer

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The Wall, by H.G. Adler. New York: Random House, 2014.(Modern Library Paperback, 2015)


Compared by critics to Kafka, Joyce, and Musil, H. G. Adler is becoming recognized as one of the towering figures of twentieth-century fiction. Nobel

Prize winner Elias Canetti wrote that “Adler has restored hope to modern literature,” and the first two novels rediscovered after his death, Panorama and The Journey, were acclaimed as “modernist masterpieces” by The New Yorker. Now his magnum opus, The Wall, the final installment of Adler’s Shoah trilogy and his crowning achievement as a novelist, is available for the first time in English.

Drawing upon Adler’s own experiences in the Holocaust and his postwar life, The Wall, like the other works in the trilogy, nonetheless avoids detailed historical specifics. The novel tells the story of Arthur Landau, survivor of a wartime atrocity, a man struggling with his nightmares and his memories of the past as he strives to forge a new life for himself. Haunted by the death of his wife, Franziska, he returns to the city of his youth and receives confirmation of his parents’ fates, then crosses the border and leaves his homeland for good.

Embarking on a life of exile, he continues searching for his place within the world. He attempts to publish his study of the victims of the war, yet he is treated with curiosity, competitiveness, and contempt by fellow intellectuals who escaped the conflict unscathed. Afflicted with survivor’s guilt, Arthur tries to leave behind the horrors of the past and find a foothold in the present. Ultimately, it is the love of his second wife, Johanna, and his two children that allows him to reaffirm his humanity while remembering all he’s left behind.

The Wall is a magnificent epic of survival and redemption, powerfully told through stream of consciousness and suffused with daydream, fantasy, memory, nightmare, and pure imagination. More than a portrait of a Holocaust survivor’s journey, it is a universal novel about recovering from the traumas of the past and finding a way to live again.

“Modernist masterpieces worthy of comparison to those of Kafka or Musil.”
The New Yorker

“Haunting . . . as remarkable for its literary experimentation as for its historical testimony.”
—San Francisco Chronicle, on Panorama

“A towering meditation on the self and spirit . . . The writing is sonorous and so entirely devastating that the reader is compelled to pore over every word.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Masterful and utterly unique.”
—The Jerusalem Post

“Haunting and utterly heart-wrenching . . . a literary masterpiece.”
—Historical Novels Review

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Panorama, by H.G. Adler. New York: Random House, 2011.(Modern Library Paperback, 2012)

Panoramais a portrait of a place and people soon to be destroyed, as seen through the eyes of young Josef Kramer. Told in ten distinct scenes, it begins in pastoral World War I–era Bohemia, where the boy passively witnesses the “wonders of the world” in a thrilling panorama display; follows him to a German boarding school full of creeping xenophobia and prejudice; and finds him in young adulthood sent to a labor camp and then to one of the infamous extermination camps, before he chooses exile abroad after the war. Josef’s philosophical journey mirrors the author’s own: from a stoic acceptance of events to a realization that “the viewer is also the participant” and that action must be taken in life, if only to make sure the dead are not forgotten.

Achieving a stream-of-consciousness power reminiscent of James-Joyce and Gertrude Stein, H. G. Adler is a modern artist with unique historical importance. Panorama is lasting evidence of both the torment of his life and the triumph of his gifts. Published for the first time in English,Panorama is a superb rediscovered novel of the Holocaust by a neglected modern master. One of a handful of death camp survivors to fictionalize his experiences in German, H. G. Adler is  referenced by W.G. Sebald in his classic novel Austerlitz, and a direct literary descendant of Kafka.

– A New York Times Editor’s Choice

“The novel’s streaming consciousness and verbal play invite comparison with Joyce, the individual-dwarfing scale of law and prohibition brings Kafka to mind, and there is something in the hypnotic pulse of the prose that is reminiscent of Gertrude Stein.”
– The New York Times Book Review

“[Adler] produced a quantity and a diversity of writings about the Holocaust that seem to have been equaled by no other survivor…. The Journeyand Panoramaare very different works, each with its own distinctive style, but both are modernist masterpieces worthy of comparison to those of Kafka and Musil.”
— The New Yorker

“A haunting narrative… [Panorama] is as remarkable for its literary experimentation as for its historical testimony… [Adler] provides an artful and brutal description… that nearly guarantees Panoramaa place in the canon of Holocaust literature.”
The San Francisco Chronicle

“An important literary and historical contribution to a lost age… much in the tradition of, say, James Joyce…. Through the sheer richness and volume of detail, it achieves an unimpeachable veracity of character and tone…. The reader owes Adler’s translator a debt for introducing his work to the English-reading world.”
–The Jerusalem Post

“A masterpiece of modern fiction.”
– The Times Literary Supplement

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The Journey, by H.G. Adler. New York: Random House, 2008. (Modern Library Paperback, 2009)

When Peter Filkins discovered an obscure German novel in a Harvard Square bookstore, he realized that it was a treasure unavailable to English speakers. It was the most powerful book by the late H. G. Adler, a survivor of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, a writer whose work had been praised by authors from Elias Canetti to Heinrich Böll and yet remained unknown to international audiences.

Written in 1950, after Adler’s emigration to England, The Journeywas not released in Germany until 1962. After the war, larger publishing houses stayed away from novels about the Holocaust, feeling that the tragedy could not be fictionalized and that any metaphorical interpretation was obscene. Only a small publisher was in those days willing to take on The Journey.

Avoiding specific mention of countries or camps– even of Nazis and Jews– The Journey is a lyrical nightmare of a family’s ordeal and one member’s survival. Led by the doctor patriarch Leopold, the Lustig family finds itself “forbidden” to live, uprooted into a surreal and incomprehensible circumstance of deprivation and death. This cataclysm destroys father, daughter, sister, and wife and leaves only Paul, the son, to live again among those who saved or sacrificed him. The Journey reveals a world beset by an “epidemic of mental illness… As a result of the epidemic, everyone was crazy, and once they finally recognized what was happening it was too late.” Linked by its innovative style to the work of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, The Journey proves that art can portray the unimaginable and expand people’s perceptions of it, a work anyone interested in recent history and modern literature must read.
A New York Times Editor’s Choice

“The novel’s streaming consciousness and verbal play invite comparison with Joyce, the individual-dwarfing scale of law and prohibition brings Kafka to mind, and there is something in the hypnotic pulse of the prose that is reminiscent of Gertrud Stein.”
– The New York Times Book Review

“A tribute to the survival of art and a poignant teaching in the art of survival. I tend to shy away from Holocaust fiction, but this book helps redeem an all-but-impossible genre.”
– Harold Bloom

“H.G. Adler’s The Journey, published first in 1962, captures the anguished cry of a survivor of the Holocaust as his world becomes reduced to his family and the family is murdered one by one. One of a slim handful of novels written in German by the survivors of Hitler’s murder of European Jewry, Adler’s personal and intimate tale allows us to observe the slow-motion destruction of a society and of a family.”
– Sander L. Gilman, author of Jurek Becker: A Life in Five Words

“This is a rediscovery of a rich and lyrical masterpiece– a haunting account of a family of victims being drawn step by step into the Holocaust, aware only of each event as it happens to them. Filkins’s sensitive translation mirrors the taut, rising suspense of this moving novel.”
–Peter Constantine, recipient of the PEN Translation Prize

“There is an old Hasidic saying: If you carry your own lantern, you will endure the dark. And today as the generation of survivors is almost gone, H.G. Alder’s The Journey– a reclaimed masterpiece– illuminates their soul and safeguards their spirit. This powerful work, both lyrical and stark, is a rekindled light through the dark of the past, to be embraced as one would an inheritance.”
– Bernice Eisenstein, author of I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors

“[An] extraordinarily ambitious attempt to articulate the unspeakable.”
Kirkus Reviews


Nach der Befreiung, H.G. Adler. Konstanz University Press, (2013).

Es kommt jetzt darauf an, der Welt zu zeigen, dass unser Aufenthalt in dem Inferno der Lager nicht vergeblich gewesen ist für den Fortgang der Menschheit, dass sich sogar aus diesem letzten Dunkel etwas gestalten lässt, das Licht sein darf.«

Sein Motiv, dem Grauen Bedeutung abzugewinnen, beschreibt H. G. Adler (1910–1988) in dem Essay »Nach der Befreiung« im Dezember 1945, sechs Monate nach seiner eigenen Befreiung aus dem KZ Langenstein. Adlers Studien über die Entstehung, Struktur, das Alltagsleben und die Auflösung der »Lagerwelt« arbeiten mit historiographischen, soziologischen und psychologischen Methoden. Als »teilnehmender Beobachter« gelangt er so zu einer der umfassendsten Darstellungen der »ordentlichen Regelung des Außerordentlichen«, des Zusammenhangs von Verwaltung und Gewalt. Adler interpretierte diesen Zusammenhang als »extreme Alternative von beinahe unbegrenzter Willkür und völliger Ohnmacht, welche das SS-System der Konzentrationslager charakterisierte.«
Während im ersten Teil des Bandes Protagonisten des Nationalsozialismus (Adolf Hitler, Adolf Eichmann u. a.) sowie Praktiken der (Selbst-)Verwaltung in den Konzentrationslagern im Mittelpunkt stehen, entwerfen die soziologischen Studien der 1960er Jahre im zweiten Teil eine Theorie der Verfolgung in ihrem Zusammenspiel mit dem bürokratischen Apparat. Adlers Überlegungen zum Missbrauch der Verwaltung sind dabei grundsätzlicher Natur und auch für die Gegenwart einschlägig. Doch nicht allein in ihrer erstaunlichen Aktualität liegt der Wert dieser nachgelassenen, bisher unveröffentlichten sowie verstreut publizierten Essays und Vorträge. Die Texte führen ebenso prägnant die wichtigsten Überlegungen aus Adlers umfangreichen, teilweise vergriffenen Standardwerken Theresienstadt 1941–1945. Das Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft (1955) und Der verwaltete Mensch. Studien zur Deportation der Juden aus Deutschland (1974) vor Augen. So ermöglichen Nach der Befreiung sowie der im Herbst 2014 erscheinende Band Die Orthodoxie des Herzens einen neuen Einblick in Adlers Denkwelten.


Orthodoxie des Herzens, H.G. Adler. Konstanz University Press, (2014).

Das Schicksal trieb H. G. Adler, sich mit Zeitgeschichte und Politik auseinanderzusetzen, sein Herz jedoch gehörte der Literatur und der Religion.«
(Jeremy Adler)

Während der Band Nach der Befreiung prägnant die wichtigsten Überlegungen seiner klassischen Bücher Theresienstadt 1941-1945. Das Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft (1955) und Der verwaltete Mensch. Studien zur Deportation der Juden aus Deutschland (1974) vor Augen stellte, eröffnet Orthodoxie des Herzens einen anderen, überraschenden Einblick in Adlers Denkwelten. Die hier versammelten Essays betreffen die Literatur, Religion und Politik des Menschen, ohne ideologisch eingefärbt zu sein. Eine zeitgenössische Prägung besitzen sie dennoch: Gedanken können und müssen sich am Erlebten abschleifen und formen. So verstand sich Adler als »Autor zwischen Literatur und Politik«. Wenn Politik eine Methode zur Staatslenkung ist, so ist Literatur ein Bedürfnis dazu. Das Ziel ist eine aktive Formung der Gesellschaft: politisch durch Gesetze und Ideologien, welchen der Mensch unterworfen wird, literarisch durch die Darstellung von Ideen, die er annehmen darf.
Orthodoxie des Herzens stellt die wichtigsten Essays Adlers über religiöse und philosophische Fragestellungen zusammen: Der erste Teil befasst sich mit Lyrik als Ausdruck der (inneren) Exilerfahrung. Der zweite Teil beleuchtet das Judentum als Religion und kreist um die Ideen von Schuld und Sühne, während sich der dritte Teil schließlich der Verbindung von Politik und Ideologie widmet. Dabei werden nicht nur Politik und Religion auf die Erfüllung von Funktion und Verantwortung hin befragt, sondern auch der Autor, der sich selbst in einer sozialen und ideologischen Zwischenstellung positioniert.